Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Learning to be a Disciple the Hard Way
G. K. Chesterton, turn of the century British author and journalist, once famously said: “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” What Chesterton was saying is that being a Christian costs. Continue reading . . .
G. K. Chesterton, turn of the century British author and journalist, once famously said: “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” What Chesterton was saying is that being a Christian costs. Of course, forgiveness of sins is free. Justification is free. We don’t do anything to obtain these blessings. We simply trust in Christ to provide them. But becoming a Christian may cost you your reputation. It may cost you the comforts of western civilization. It may cost you your pride, your position in society. It may even cost you your life. But the investment you make when you submit in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ yields an everlasting and eternal dividend.
The Apostle Peter knew this, but it was a painful lesson for him to learn. Peter discovered what it really means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. He knew all about the cost of discipleship. But it didn’t come easily. It rarely does.
What I’m hoping for that you and I might learn something about what it means to be a disciple, what it means really to be a Christian; not in name only, which ultimately counts for nothing, but in the very depths of our soul in such a way that every inch of our lives is radically affected. Our learning this, I’m sad to say, is going to come at Peter’s expense. Bless his little apostolic heart. I can’t help but feel sorry for Peter. Perhaps no man in history has known better than Peter both the heights of spiritual elation and the depths of spiritual failure.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:31-38).
I have to confess that on the surface this just doesn’t make sense. Here is Peter, the object of God’s sovereign grace, being enlightened with the glorious revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Blessed are you Peter, says Jesus (see Mark 8:27-30).
But no sooner have these exalted words of faith passed through Peter’s lips that he becomes the tool of Satan himself, standing in vocal opposition to the eternal purpose of God. It is out of this painful and embarrassing experience, however, that both Peter and you and I learn what being a Christian is all about. We learn what discipleship really costs. It comes at Peter’s expense, but I don’t think he’ll mind.
Remember the setting. Jesus and his disciples had come to Caesarea Philippi where he asked them the most important question of all: “Who do people say that I am?” “You are the Christ,” shouts Peter. “You are the Son of the Living God!” Ah, well done Pete! I’ll bet you could almost cut the air it was so thick with joy and excitement and the thrill of being the recipient of such a profound divine revelation.
Now is the time, Jesus must have said to himself, now is the time to speak more forthrightly about my future. Prior to this moment there had been only veiled hints of what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. The disciples didn’t yet fully grasp the need for Jesus to be betrayed and delivered over into the hands of the religious leaders and how he would be flogged and beaten and eventually nailed to a cross. But the time has come for veiled references and elusive hints to pass. Plain language is the order of the day. So Jesus makes a prediction. And no sooner does it pass through the lips of Jesus than Peter is ready with a protest!
Before we go any further we need to pause and reflect on something Jesus said: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Sometimes you simply have to stop and put life on hold and let a word sink into your soul and do its work. “Must” is just such a word. The necessity or inevitability of Jesus’ suffering and death is not due to any political realities in the first century. This is no human commitment to a great idealistic goal. This is a divine imperative. This is a God-ordained absolute necessity. God had no back-up plan. There were no alternatives from which he might choose. This “must” came thundering out of the eternal counsel of God himself. This was Jesus putting words to the unalterable, immutable plan of God.
But in what sense “must” Jesus suffer this way and eventually be raised from the dead? Now think about this for a moment.
Did Jesus say this because his Heavenly Father was under the influence of some compelling force beyond his control? Was God held hostage, so to speak, to some law outside of himself that required he send his Son to die for sinners like Peter and you and me? NO!
God did not have to redeem us from sin. Had God left us in our sinful and wretched condition he would have still been holy and just and loving. The decision by God to make the ultimate sacrifice of his Son for sinners was entirely a free choice on his part. But: once that decision had been made, once God had determined to graciously redeem us from sin, it was absolutely necessary that Jesus should die.
Of course, you shouldn’t conclude from this that the Father was coercing the Son to do something against his will (see John 10:17-18). The decision of the Father to send and the decision of the Son to obey were both willing and voluntary expressions of love for you and me and Peter.
I strongly suspect that it was the word “kill” that threw Peter into a spiritual convulsion. What torqued him, what tweaked him, what twisted him inside and out and sideways, was this utterly inconceivable idea that the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God should die! My guess is that the word “kill” so shocked and stunned Peter and those with him that they barely heard, if at all, the words, “and after three days rise again” (v. 31b).
Before he can even think clearly or process what resurrection from the dead is all about, Peter takes Jesus aside and begins rebuking him! It makes me want to shout: “Peter! Stop! Are you nuts?” Did you hear that? “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
Try to envision the scene of Peter taking hold of Jesus’ arm and pulling him aside. “Come here. What’s the matter with you? Have you lost your mind? You can’t go around saying things like that! Get a grip, for heaven’s sake. It’s embarrassing for you to talk like this. People will think you’re crazy. Don’t forget: You’re the Messiah! The Messiah doesn’t die!”
At some point I suspect Peter may have pulled John to the side and said something like this:
“John, tell me something. [Raising his foot high off the ground . . .]. Do you see that foot?”
“Yes, I see it.”
“It’s a big foot, a really, really big foot, John; size 12 ½ medium. Now tell me something. How can a man so often and so easily insert that foot, the whole thing, into his mouth the way I do?”
In this case, Peter had fallen prey to the same messianic expectations that many who followed Jesus had embraced. They looked on Jesus as the fulfillment of their dreams to throw off Roman oppression. Here, finally, was the military commander who could lead Israel in rebellion and ultimate victory over Rome. Peter evidently viewed Jesus more as a political Messiah than as a pardoning one. He envisioned Jesus with a royal scepter in his hand. It never occurred to him his protest was in effect a call for his own damnation! He didn’t realize that his own salvation depended on the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction. Peter’s plans would have benefited no one, except the Devil. Jesus would have been thwarted in fulfilling God’s purpose and Peter and you and I would have died unredeemed.
The contrasts are breathtaking!
Peter had been the first to scale the heights of theological insight and yet is now the first to plummet to the depths of dangerous ignorance.
God’s revelation to Peter brought him to the pinnacle of confession. Peter’s presumptuous response plunged him into the dark valley of utter confusion.
Only moments before, Peter is the rock on which Christ will build his church. Now, he is the rock over which Jesus would stumble and fall, were he to obey Peter’s command.
Jesus, being attentive and obedient to the Father’s will, says “I must!” Peter, being attentive and obedient to the Devil, says, “You never!”
Just as surely as God had put the glorious confession of v. 29 in Peter’s heart, Satan had put the rebuke of v. 32 in it!
At one moment inspired by God; at the next, by the Devil. By the way, in calling Peter “Satan” he is simply making the vivid and emphatic point that when a person abandons God’s way of thinking and the values of the kingdom and puts in its place the values and priorities of human beings, one has in effect become a tool or instrument of the Devil himself.
How could this happen? I suppose some would like to get Peter off the hook by insisting he was motivated by his love for Jesus and simply couldn’t bear the thought of him dying in this way. I don’t doubt that’s partly true.
But there may be another answer. Perhaps it is to be found in how supernatural, revelatory experiences can affect the fallen, prideful human heart. Let me explain.
Try to imagine the rush Peter must have felt when the revelation from God came bursting into his heart! The emotional high. The exhilaration! The spiritual buzz! To make it even worse, in one sense, Jesus pronounces him “Blessed” for having been the recipient of this revelation. What should Peter have done? He should have fallen immediately to his knees and cried out: “Oh, God, why me? Why did you entrust this truth to me? I deserve only hell. I’m not sure I can be entrusted with something this magnificent. God, please guard my heart. Protect me from pride. Don’t let me draw the wrong conclusion from this experience.” But that isn’t what happened.
What happened is what often happens to those who are the recipients of some revelatory truth: a prophetic revelation, a word of knowledge, a healing; or perhaps simply a new insight into the Scriptures, etc. Such a person is likely to feel:
• Special (it was to me, not John or Andrew or Matthew that God gave this truth).
• Indispensable (clearly God knows that Jesus needs me; no one else can do for him what I can).
• Authoritative (this must mean they should all listen to whatever else I say!).
• Infallible (if I got this one right, I certainly should get everything else right; I’m beyond correction).
• Unaccountable (no one has the right to bring a rebuke to me; God has elevated me to a higher and different standard than the one others live by).
Jesus takes advantage of Peter’s gaffe to set everyone straight (v. 33). The bottom line problem is that Peter had not yet matured where he could see things from God’s perspective. If Jesus was to die, what will that mean for me, he must have asked himself? I don’t like the idea of him being killed because I might get caught in the crossfire.
Well, the story doesn’t stop there. If Peter misunderstood what being the Messiah entailed for Jesus, he obviously also misunderstood what was entailed in being his disciple. If Peter envisioned only glory and fame and power for the Master, he probably expected no less for his followers. Jesus, therefore, takes no chances, but grabs the opportunity to clarify in stark and unmistakable terms exactly what it means to be his disciple.
We’ll look closely at what Jesus says in the next article.